Just east of Galveston, there’s a small peninsula, only accessible from the west by ferry. With gorgeous vacation homes and expansive views of both the ocean and the bay, this gem of a destination is just waiting to be explored. An 8.5-hour drive from Oklahoma City or 1.5 hour flight, this destination is calling your name for a last-minute summer getaway.
Here are our favorite reasons to head to this unique Texas coast destination.
Wide Open Spaces
The first and probably most important reason to go to Bolivar is the uncrowded and expansive beaches. The peninsula runs 27 miles, with accessible beaches virtually the entire distance. Even popular areas, like Crystal Beach, don’t have near the congestion of Galveston’s beaches just across the bay. Summer weekends usually draw the largest crowds, especially summer holiday weekends.
However, if you’re seeking a bit more seclusion, just take a drive to the areas of High Island and Gilchrist. Even during the busy seasons, these beaches see a substantially lower number of visitors due to their more remote location. The whole family will love playing in the sand, catching hermit crabs and boogie boarding. Don’t forget to venture to the water at night. Bolivar’s beaches are perfect for nighttime bonfires. Bolivar also offers the convenience of driving right onto the beach. Just be sure to purchase your $10 parking permit, which is required for any vehicle parking on the beach. You can pick up your permit at most stores and real estate agencies on the peninsula, as well as the Chamber of Commerce (1750 Hwy 87).
The amount of quality seafood available on Bolivar cannot be overemphasized. The proximity to the ocean’s bay fishing means seafood is plentiful and always fresh. If you’re renting one of the peninsula’s many vacation homes, no need to find a restaurant to get a taste of what the ocean offers. Many of the vacation homes boast fish-cleaning stations.
Bolivar is a great area to try your hand at surf fishing, which is always a big hit with the kids. For those who’ve never surf fished before, no worries! The local fishing community is extra friendly and folks are always willing to give you pointers about surf fishing. Before the family heads out on the sand with their rods and reels, be sure to get the proper fishing license. You can get a non-resident, one-day all water fishing license from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for $16. Visit www.tpwd.texas.gov for more information.
Even if you don’t want to catch it yourself, Highway 87 is sprinkled with shrimp shacks full of fresh fish. Local shrimpers sell freshcaught shrimp by the pound. Be sure to have cash on hand, as some don’t accept credit cards. Bolivar also offers numerous restaurants that will please everyone in the family. One longtime Bolivar favorite is Stingeree Restaurant and Marina (1295 N. Stingeree Rd.). This place has been filling Crystal Beach’s appetite for fresh seafood since 1986. Their delicious menu offers everything from crab boils to steaks.
One of the best parts of the peninsula is the vast amount of wildlife. The area boasts 344 species of birds and is one of the best birding spots in the country. Take some binoculars and visit the many bird sanctuaries operated by the Houston Audubon Society. These sanctuaries are pocketed all over the peninsula and offer excellent opportunities to photograph rare birds in their natural habitat.
One to keep an eye out for is the Roseate Spoonbill. This bright pink wading bird can be spotted in and around High Island. Visit www.houstonaudubon.org for a list of locations and information on Bolivar bird watching. No trip to the peninsula would be complete without a day trip to the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge (4017 FM 563). This remote and unexpected refuge is the jewel of the peninsula. The visitor center is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Trails and boardwalks allow a glimpse at alligators in their marshy habitats, as well as many different types of birds. Keep a close eye out in the early morning, you may just see river otters or bobcats!
Waterslide and Snow Cones
Another beach hot spot is the Fun Spot Waterslide (2061 Hwy 87), a long slide built on a hill with a splash pool at the bottom. This slide is great for kids of all ages, with no height requirements. Life vests are available on-site for those who need them. After some water fun in the sun, make sure to stop by one of the snow cone stands along Hwy 87. With some having outdoor seating available, it’s a great way to unwind with the kids.
Dolphins and Ferry Rides
No matter how many times we go to Bolivar, my kids’ favorite thing is the ferry ride to and from Galveston. Not only is it fun to drive a car onto a big ship, but you’ll see some of the local wildlife if you venture to the bow when the ferry gets underway. Bottlenose dolphins inhabit the waters of Galveston Bay and are frequent visitors along the wake of the ferry boats. Stand at the back of the ferry and keep an eye out for two or three chasing the boat. Overhead you’ll also see a variety of pelicans and sea birds trailing the ferry. If you’re planning on feeding the birds, it has to be done from the back of the boat. Break open a bag of bread and you’ll soon discover why.
The ferry runs around-the-clock from Bolivar to Galveston and is free. However, keep in mind that on the weekends, ferry wait times can be longer than one hour during heavy traffic. To minimize the risk of lengthy waits with little ones in the car, try boarding a ferry mid-day during the week. The ferry boat trip takes approximately 20 minutes. There are bathrooms located near the ferry dock for use while you’re waiting and bathrooms are also available once on the boat. For more information about the ferry boats, visit www.galveston.com/galvestonferry.
If you’re thinking about making this destination your next family adventure, be sure to check out www.vrbo.com or www.crystalbeach.com for vacation home rentals. There are no condos or hotels on the Bolivar Peninsula. However, because of the variety and inventory of vacation houses, there is something to fit everyone’s budget.
Jenn Morris is a mom of six & blogger who lives Piedmont. Read more from her at fumblingtowardsfriday.wordpress.com.